Brussels Philharmonic | Ilan Volkov on Boulez & Cage

Ilan Volkov on Boulez & Cage

Boulez & Cage


Pierre Boulez Initiale (1987)
Pierre Boulez Messagesquisse (1976)
John Cage
Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra (1951)
John Cage The Seasons (1947)
John Cage Seventy-Four (1992)


[info & tickets]
[read also: programmes notes]
[discover also: Curated by... Jean-Luc Plouvier]


14.11.2024 FLAGEY
15.11.2024 DE BIJLOKE GENT

Cage and Boulez lived roughly in the same period, although Cage died long before Boulez. They knew each other well – there’s an amazing book of correspondence between them – and had a meeting of minds in the early 50s, when Cage was interested in serialism and complex music. Then Cage turned to thinking more about how any sound can be viewed as music, while Boulez continued searching for an idea of Modernism that could follow Webern and Messiaen, and they had a significant split. Boulez never conducted any of Cage’s music and there was a splinter in the new-music scene between those who followed Boulez and whose music Boulez conducted (including Ligeti and Carter) and those who followed Cage, such as Alvin Lucier and other experimental composers who went even further than Cage.

So the two composers are related, but they are in opposition to each other, and it will be fantastic to hear the contrasts between their music in the same concert. I am guessing that we will also hear similarities, though. Even though they are polar opposites and their aesthetics are very different, they are connected by the search for beauty, their amazing orchestration and a feeling for sound.

We are presenting one of Cage’s most famous pieces – his Concerto for Prepared Piano. Objects are placed inside the piano, transforming it into another instrument entirely. This changes the dynamics of what a concerto is and what you hear. It’s the same world we know from Beethoven and Mozart, but we hear sounds that are completely new and invented. There’s a lot of fantasy and a striving for the modern, taking this old instrument and completely transforming it.

We are also performing a much later piece by Cage, one of his number pieces, named after the number of players involved – Seventy Four. It’s unconducted and all the players follow a timer. There’s very little material for them to play, but they have quite a lot of freedom individually in when and how to play the music they have in front of them. Even though it’s fully notated and not improvised, there is a large element of decision-taking by each of the musicians, which means that every performance is completely different.

Ilan Volkov

BOULEZ CAGE Marcel Lennartz Brussels EC1 A9421

Boulez & Cage: Giants of the Avant-Garde · 14.11.2024 · Flagey

Boulez, the man who tried to reduce music to grids and sequences, series and schedules. Who composed with mathematical precision. Cage, the man who let music run wild. Who placed composing in the hands of fate. They seem to be two worlds that are miles apart, but in terms of radicality they are virtually identical. The Brussels Philharmonic combines some intense, compact compositions by Boulez with the unprecedented large form of Cage’s Concerto for Prepared Piano. Music that is now half a century old, but still sounds progressive.

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Filmtips: Boulez x Cage

Discover some undeniable avant-garde classics with this carefully curated film selection by film journalist Robin Broos.